On August 22, a convoy of blacked-out Suburbans, flanked by police escorts, sped west along Sunset Boulevard and then headed north into the Hollywood Hills. The motorcade finally pulled up to the gated entrance of Beverly Park, an exclusive enclave that is home to an array of famous actors, rockers, and other Los Angeles A-listers. Hillary Clinton’s destination that evening was the palatial compound of Univision chairman Haim Saban, a billionaire most famous for creating the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Saban’s sprawling mansion was built in the style of a French country manor, and the meticulously tended grounds, in which he took special pride, were modeled on the gardens of Versailles.
No Democratic megadonors have opened their wallets to the Clintons like Haim and Cheryl Saban. Leaving aside the lucrative fundraisers, the Sabans have given upward of $27 million to assorted Clinton causes and campaigns.
Clinton Global Initiative:
Hillary Senate campaigns:
Hillary Victory Fund:
Over a late dinner, Clinton regaled Saban, his wife, Cheryl, and 100 guests—including Disney CEO Bob Iger, DreamWorks Animation founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, and basketball legend Magic Johnson—with war stories from the campaign trail. “Well, the latest one they have on me is that I’m dying,” she said, referring to the elaborate conspiracy theories about her health ginned up by conservative media. “That’s a new one.” The price of admission to the Sabans’ fundraiser—their second for Clinton during the 2016 race—was $100,000 per couple. After a few hours of mingling, Clinton had raised more than $5 million—one of the most lucrative hauls of her campaign.
Saban, who is solidly built with slicked-back wavy black hair, is worth an estimated $3.5 billion, earning him the 453rd spot on Forbes‘ ranking of the world’s richest people. The 72-year-old holds dual Israeli-American citizenship, and his office—which occupies the top floor of a 26-story tower in LA’s Century City—is a testament to his divided loyalties. An Israeli flag and an American flag adorn his conference room, next to photographs of Abraham Lincoln, David Ben-Gurion, Theodor Herzl, and John F. Kennedy. A framed Golda Meir quote in the lobby (“We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us”) greets visitors. There’s also a mock version of Monopoly called Haimopoly on display. The play money bears the Power Rangers logo, and the properties on the board include some of Saban’s current and former business interests—the Paul Frank designer brand, TV network Univision, the Israeli telecommunications company Bezeq.
Saban has the self-made mogul’s way of both downplaying and reminding you of his clout. In one breath he’ll name-drop “Angela” (German Chancellor Angela Merkel) or “Bibi” (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu); in the next he’ll describe himself as a mere “former cartoon schlepper” or “just a guy.”
But there is one subject on which Saban does not hold back: his relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton. No single political patron has done more for the Clintons over the span of their careers. In the past 20 years, Saban and his wife have donated $2.4 million to the Clintons’ various campaigns and at least $15 million to the Clinton Foundation, where Cheryl Saban serves as a board member. Haim Saban prides himself on his top-giver status: “If I’m not No. 1, I’m going to cut my balls off,” he once remarked on the eve of a Hillary fundraiser. The Sabans have given more than $10 million to Priorities USA, making them among the largest funders of the pro-Hillary super-PAC. In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential campaign, he vowed to spend “whatever it takes” to elect her.
The ties go beyond money. The Clintons have flown on the Sabans’ private jet, stayed at their LA home, and vacationed at their Acapulco estate. The two families watched the 2004 election results together at the Clintons’ home, and Bill Clinton gave the final toast at one of Cheryl Saban’s birthday parties. Haim Saban is chummy enough with Hillary that he felt comfortable telling her that she sounded too shrill on the stump. “Why are you shouting all the time?” he says he told her. “It’s drilling a hole in my head.” Clinton campaign emails released by WikiLeaks in October contain dozens of messages to, from, and referencing Saban. And they show that he has no qualms about pressing Clinton and her aides on her position toward Israel. “She needs to differentiate herself from Obama on Israel,” he wrote in June 2015 to Clinton’s top aides. “It can easily be done w/o criticizing the President, and this so that she can recapture the 11% lost between 2012 and 1992,” he added, referring to the drop in Jewish support at the ballot box.
Like any political benefactor, Saban has an agenda. Unlike many, however, he is startlingly transparent about what he wants and how he intends to get it. “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel,” he has said. A supporter of the late Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Labor Party leader and pro-peace prime minister, Saban has drifted rightward in recent years. “In general, he’s taking a harder line,” says former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk. Saban says he still believes in a two-state solution, but his all-consuming concern is defending Israel and fortifying its relationship with the United States. “For me,” he said several years ago, “bringing the American president closer to the people of Israel is a life goal.”
One year at the Saban Forum, an annual conference featuring top officials and public figures from the United States and Israel (with the odd Arab leader), the mogul outlined his three-pronged approach for influencing American politics: fund political campaigns, bankroll think tanks, and control the media. In addition to the Saban Forum, he funded a Brookings Institution research center focused on US-Israeli relations. He has tried for years to buy media outlets in the United States and Israel; it wasn’t a profit he was after, per se, but “a return with influence,” as he once told a journalist.
When it comes to the Clintons, Saban has already seen a healthy return on his investment, in the form of access to top US and foreign officials; he’s also received timely help from them with his global business dealings. But the election of Hillary Clinton would give Saban more juice than ever before—and there is no question he would bring that clout to bear on his top issue, Israel, and on rebuilding US-Israeli relations after the low points of the last eight years and the public schism between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu.
For Clinton, her relationship with Saban gives her a back channel to Israeli leaders and a proxy who is beloved in Israel. (“Our rich uncle,” an Israeli TV host once called Saban.) But it also comes with complications. In contrast to Clinton’s call for the rich to pay their fair share in taxes, Saban routes his business ventures through the Cayman Islands and other tax shelters; his tax avoidance practices were once scrutinized by a Senate committee. His hardline tone on the Middle East—defending Israel at all costs, calling for tighter screening of Muslim immigrants (a comment he later walked back), and saying of Iranian fundamentalists that he would “bomb the living daylights out of those sons of bitches”—is out of sync with many Democratic voters. Last year, he even teamed up on pro-Israel causes with Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who says the Palestinians are “an invented people.”
“When it comes to Israel, we’re absolutely on the same page,” Saban told Israel’s Channel 2 in June 2015 with Adelson at his side. “Our interest is to take care of Israel’s interest in the United States. Period. Over and out.”
Hollywood power brokers tend to come in three varieties: the company men and women who ascend the corporate ladder until they reach the C-suite; the heirs to movie- or music-making dynasties like Casey Wasserman, the grandson of the late MCA chief and Democratic donor Lew Wasserman; and the scrappy comers who—through ruthlessness, grit, or a combination—claw their way to an empire.
Saban is in the third category. He was born in Egypt in 1944. His father worked in a toy shop and his mother was a seamstress. Animosity toward Jews in the run-up to the Suez War in 1956 forced the Saban family—like many Jewish Egyptian refugees—to resettle in Israel, where they found an apartment in a rough neighborhood in Tel Aviv, sharing a communal bathroom “with a hooker and her pimp,” Saban likes to say.
As a teenager, Saban enlisted with the Israel Defense Forces and served during the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. While in the IDF, Saban discovered a knack for concert promoting and was on his way to earning a small fortune when the Yom Kippur War broke out. He nearly went bankrupt after fronting hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring 40 Japanese harpists to Israel—only for their concerts to be canceled at the war’s onset.
Saban moved to Paris and carved out an obscure yet lucrative line of work. When popular American shows of the era such as Starsky and Hutch or Dallas were broadcast overseas, the foreign networks needed new title songs and credits music. With his partner, an Israeli composer and musician named Shuki Levy, Saban offered to create theme music and provide it to TV networks for free. The catch: Saban and Levy would keep the rights to the music, which they later packaged into hit singles and albums. Within seven years, Saban’s company had 15 gold and platinum records and $10 million in annual revenue.
By 1983, Saban’s ambitions had outgrown music copyrighting. He moved to LA to pitch TV shows of his own, driving from meeting to meeting in a white convertible Rolls-Royce Corniche with the vanity plate “RSKTKR.” He scored modest hits with NBC’s Kidd Video, an MTV-style show aimed at young children, and the Samurai Pizza Cats, but his big breakthrough came in 1993. On an earlier trip to Japan, Saban had stumbled upon Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, a TV show that featured a team of karate-fighting superheroes in brightly colored spandex suits. He bought the US rights and sought to Americanize the show. After eight years of getting laughed out of pitch meetings, he finally convinced an executive at Fox Children’s Network to buy what came to be known as the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
The show was an instant hit, and it established Saban’s reputation as a canny businessman. He had extracted such favorable terms on the sales and licensing of the show’s wildly popular toys that he effectively rewrote the rules of the merchandising business. He also became known for his hard-nosed approach to business, with the Screen Actors Guild briefly ordering its members not to work for him because of his company’s alleged “economic exploitation of children”—many of the shows Saban produced used child actors—and failure to pay adequate wages and health benefits. Saban fiercely denied the charges, and the two sides resolved the dispute with an apology from the SAG and a new union agreement for Saban’s actors.
It was around this time that Saban first met Bill Clinton, whose administration had taken on violence in kids’ TV shows and movies. Vice President Al Gore—whose wife, Tipper, was leading the crusade against obscenities in music—held up Saban’s Power Rangers as an example of what was wrong, criticizing the show for “too many hai-ya’s.”
In the fall of 1995, at the invitation of a New York investment banker, Saban attended one of Clinton’s now-infamous White House kaffeeklatsches—informal meetings with potential donors intended to raise money for his 1996 reelection bid. “You want to have breakfast with the president?” the banker asked Saban. “Why would he want to have breakfast with me?” Saban replied. “So you can be a trustee,” the investor said. (“Trustee” was the Clinton White House’s moniker for a major donor.) Saban and other TV executives eventually succeeded in heading off a government ratings system; standards were created by the industry’s lobbying group instead.
Saban was smitten by Clinton, and he showed it by writing checks totaling $240,000 to the Democratic National Committee, which ran Clinton’s reelection fund. Saban’s success in Hollywood—the Wall Street Journal described him as “the Walt Disney of the 1990s”—mirrored his ascent in Democratic politics. In 1998, Saban hosted a crucial fundraiser that raised $1.5 million for the DNC. The event not only helped to fuel the party’s shock success in the midterms, with an incumbent president’s party gaining seats for the first time since Franklin D. Roosevelt, but also cemented Hollywood as a key source of support for Clinton. “Clinton did not have a large, prosperous home base; he’s from Hope, Arkansas,” says Donna Bojarsky, an LA-based Democratic consultant. “When he came out here, LA became his home base as a fundraising city.”
Saban stood by Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, defending him in the media and maxing out to Clinton’s legal defense fund. Clinton returned the favor with tickets to state dinners, overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom, and an appointment to the President’s Export Council, which offers advice on international trade policy. Their bond continued well after Clinton left office. Saban even assisted Clinton in building his presidential library, via a $10 million unsecured loan to the Clinton Foundation on which he later forgave the interest.
Yet it appears to be Saban who got the most out of his relationship with the president. In 2001, he cut a deal to sell the Fox Family Channel (with which he’d merged his entertainment company in the late ’90s) to Disney. Various international governments had to approve the sale, and the slow-moving Brazilians were jeopardizing the deal. According to a 2010 New Yorker profile of Saban, the mogul turned to Clinton for help. The former president called the Brazilian president, and the deal went through. (Saban declined to be interviewed on the record for this story and did not respond to a detailed list of questions, including about the sale of Fox Family.) Disney paid $5.3 billion in cash for Fox Family. Saban’s cut totaled $1.5 billion—at the time, the largest cash payday for a single person in Hollywood history.
Saban began looking for ways to translate his financial windfall into more political clout. In 2001, he donated $7 million to rebuild the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters on Capitol Hill—at that time, the largest donation ever recorded. He gave $5 million to Bill Clinton’s presidential foundation. He toyed with the idea of buying a major US news outlet like Newsweek or the Los Angeles Times. And he met with Martin Indyk, who had recently joined the Brookings Institution after serving as US ambassador to Israel under Clinton, to discuss funding a think tank of his own. Indyk suggested Saban start his own organization within Brookings, and together they drafted a plan to form the think tank’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Once again, Saban’s giving set a record: His $13 million pledge over seven years was the largest in the think tank’s history.
After the launch of the Saban Center, the billionaire began pouring more and more of his fortune into Israeli causes. He donated $10 million to support the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and funded the construction of hospitals in Israel. He also made seven-figure gifts to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the hawkish Israeli lobbying group, and underwrote AIPAC’s twice-annual conference for student activists, now known as the Saban Leadership Seminar. As Israeli politics began to shift rightward, so did Saban. He struck a hardline stance on national security issues—the Patriot Act, he told the New York Times, was “not strong enough”—and foresaw a bleak outcome in the Israel-Palestine conflict. “I think that any resolution will have to go both on the Palestinian side and Israeli side to some form of civil war,” he said. “It’s not going to be without spilling blood.”
In 2006, Saban featured prominently in two high dramas in Washington. First, various news outlets reported that AIPAC had asked Saban to withhold campaign money from House Democrats unless then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi agreed to appoint Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat who was strongly pro-Israel, as the chair of the Intelligence Committee if Democrats regained the House. (Harman didn’t get the job; Saban donated to House Democrats the following year.) Saban was also named in a Senate subcommittee investigation that found he’d avoided paying an estimated $225 million in taxes from the sale of Fox Family through questionable accounting tactics. Saban, testifying before the Senate, cast himself as the victim of fraudulent tax advisers (they would eventually go to prison) and vowed to repay the back taxes, which he did.
One ally Saban could always count on during this period was the junior senator from New York, Hillary Clinton. Though it was 3,000 miles from her constituents, she attended the opening of the Saban Research Center at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, funded by a $40 million gift from the Sabans. She has attended every Saban Forum starting in 2004. Saban has said he urged Clinton to run for president in 2004. Four years later, when she did enter the race, he maxed out to her campaign—and fast became one of Clinton’s largest fundraisers.
Clinton’s defeat in ’08, Saban has said, was “my greatest loss.” Wary of Barack Obama, Saban even reportedly considered backing Sen. John McCain in the general election. After Obama was elected and chose Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Saban remained cool to the new president, criticizing him early on for visiting Cairo and Saudi Arabia but not Jerusalem.
“To say I don’t sleep easily with the current administration’s relationship to Israel would be an understatement,” he told an Israeli TV station in 2010. “They are leftists, really left leftists, so far to the left there’s not much space left between them and the wall.”
At the outset of the 2012 campaign, Saban said he had no plans to donate to Obama’s reelection. People close to him told me that he felt slighted and ignored by the Obama White House, which seemed to take pride in distancing itself from big-money supporters. But facing a tough reelection fight against Mitt Romney and the prospect of being outspent by groups created after the Citizens United decision, Obama’s aides set about bringing Saban back into the fold. Visitor logs show that he was twice invited to the White House after his critical remarks—once in December 2011 to meet with Chief of Staff William Daley, and again in June 2012 to attend a dinner at which Obama awarded then-Israeli President Shimon Peres the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “What Haim probably needed to be assured of was Obama’s understanding of the special nature of the relationship between Israel and the United States, which he surely was and is,” says David Axelrod, a former senior aide to Obama. “Once that became clear, it probably cleared the way for him to embrace the president fully.”
A few weeks after attending the dinner, Saban donated $1 million to be split among the three super-PACs dedicated to reelecting Obama and winning back majorities in the House and Senate, and he made the maximum individual contribution ($2,500) to Obama’s campaign. Saban also penned an op-ed in the New York Times titled “The Truth About Obama and Israel.” It was a strong, if not quite full-throated, endorsement of Obama. “Even though he could have done a better job highlighting his friendship for Israel,” Saban wrote, “there’s no denying that by every tangible measure, his support for Israel’s security and well-being has been rock solid.” A few weeks later, the Obama administration quietly announced that it had named Cheryl Saban to be a US representative to the United Nations.
The goodwill didn’t last long. Saban fiercely opposed any efforts to open diplomatic negotiations with Iran. “His name would come up as a shadowy presence, as sort of a looming force influencing the positions of Democrats on Iran,” says Joseph Cirincione, head of the anti-nuclear-proliferation group Ploughshares. Indeed, as Saban moved rightward on the issue of Israel, he briefly partnered with Adelson, the right-wing casino mogul. The two men appeared together at events for the Israeli-American Council, an umbrella group for Israeli-centric organizations in the United States, and the Campus Maccabees, a campaign to combat the Israel divestment movement.
Saban was one of a few dozen Jewish leaders who attended a July 31, 2015, meeting at the White House where Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and other administration officials delivered their arguments in favor of the Iran deal. When the meeting was opened up to questions, according to one attendee, Saban immediately launched into a long diatribe on why the administration was wrong about the deal. “It wasn’t like he asked a question,” the attendee told me. “He didn’t touch on anything Moniz had said. He came in planning to say what he had to say. It was stream of consciousness and very odd.”
Clinton had not yet declared her position on the Iran deal. That spring, Saban had told an Israeli TV station that he’d privately discussed it with her, and his cagey remarks hinted that she might come out in opposition. “I can’t reveal to you things that were said behind closed doors,” he told the interviewer, according to a translation by The Hill. “She has an opinion, a very well-defined opinion. And in any case, everything that she thinks and everything she has done and will do will always be for the good of Israel.” According to the Clinton campaign emails released by WikiLeaks, Saban’s comments didn’t go unnoticed by top Clinton aides. When Huma Abedin, Clinton’s top deputy, raised questions about the interview (“Did you guys talk to anyone in comms about this,” she emailed a Saban aide), Saban replied that his comments had been mistranslated. “The Hill needs to go the [sic] Hebrew lessons if they want to quote Hebrew interviews,” he wrote, noting, “All questions that I am asked about policy I simply answer ‘I don’t know’…and I just praise her experience courage persistence tenacity etc.”
That fall, Clinton endorsed the Obama administration’s accord, under which Iran will gradually wind down its nuclear capabilities in exchange for US and UN sanctions relief. Her support flew in the face of her largest benefactor—but by then Saban had seen the writing on the wall. Believing it was a fait accompli, he eventually offered his tepid support for the deal.
People who work on Middle Eastern issues told me that this episode is important to understanding how Saban operates. He knows just how far he can push before he jeopardizes his access to power. In fact, after the Iran deal was announced in July 2015, Adelson pressed Saban to spend some of the political capital he’d banked with the Clintons by leaning on Hillary to oppose it. But rather than risk his relationship with her, according to a source with knowledge of the episode, Saban pulled out of his joint initiatives with Adelson.
People who know Saban say he is fiercely competitive—especially when it comes to his role as a Clinton friend and benefactor. “The best way to get Haim Saban to give $5 million is to tell him Jeffrey Katzenberg’s giving $2.5 million,” one Democratic fundraiser told me. On May 7, 2015, just weeks after Hillary Clinton made her White House bid official, Saban organized a fundraiser for her that was considered the Hollywood debut of her campaign. When Saban learned that Katzenberg was being billed as a co-host, he flew into a rage and demanded the campaign and anyone else describing the event make clear that this was his event. “Hollywood is all about who gets top billing, whose names are on the marquee and whose names are below the line,” says a person familiar with the planning of the fundraiser. While Katzenberg’s name wasn’t dropped from the event, Saban’s aides worked the phones to ensure that the press coverage played up Saban’s leading role above all others.
Saban and the Clintons kept in close contact during the Obama years. During Hillary Clinton’s stint as secretary of state, Saban wrote to Clinton at her private email address with warm notes about get-togethers (“Tx again for today. Love u”) and passing along get-well wishes from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert days after Clinton fainted and suffered a concussion. In 2009, Saban had also tried to hire Bill Clinton as a consultant at his private-equity firm, Saban Capital Group, but lawyers at the State Department nixed the arrangement, noting in a legal memo that Saban “is actively involved in foreign affairs issues, particularly with regards to the Middle East, which is a priority area for the secretary.” Saban’s foundation continued to give lavishly to the Clinton Foundation—$3.5 million in 2010 and again in 2011, and a $10 million pledge in 2013, the year Cheryl Saban joined the board. In May 2015, Univision paid Bill Clinton $250,000 for a 15-minute Q&A at a promotional event for the network. And after Hillary Clinton stepped down as secretary, Univision entered a partnership with the Clinton Foundation focused on early childhood development. The network’s promotional material for the Pequeños y Valiosos (Young and Valuable) initiative prominently featured Hillary Clinton in a gauzy, positive light, as did a rollout event for the partnership at a Head Start classroom in East Harlem.
The materials soon disappeared from Univision’s website, but not before questions were raised about the network’s close ties to Clinton. Saban and a group of investors had bought Univision for $11 billion in 2007 and transformed it into the dominant Spanish-language TV channel, with ratings often rivaling the established broadcast networks. While Saban has denied exerting any influence on Univision’s news coverage, the network has championed the cause of comprehensive immigration reform and warred with prominent Republican politicians including Marco Rubio and Donald Trump. It has also organized a voter registration drive with a goal of signing up 3 million Hispanic voters—a nonpartisan effort that nonetheless will help Democratic candidates. Saban, despite past remarks about using a media outlet to promote his political and foreign policy interests, says all he cares about is ratings and revenue at Univision; in 2014, he and his fellow investors tried to sell the network for more than $20 billion with no luck. Now, it appears Saban may have designs on taking the company public in the near future.
The WikiLeaks emails pointed to an even stronger connection between Saban, Univision, and the Clinton campaign than previously known. In March 2015, a month before Clinton launched her campaign, Tina Flournoy, an aide to Bill Clinton, wrote to soon-to-be Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that Univision had proposed—via Saban—a joint speech with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to be hosted by Univision anchor Jorge Ramos. (The event never came off.) In July 2015, Saban and his staff contacted multiple campaign aides about what he saw as Clinton’s lackluster response to Donald Trump’s toxic rhetoric on Hispanic immigration. “Haim thinks we are under reacting to Trump/Hispanics,” Podesta wrote to several colleagues. “Thinks we can get something by standing up for Latinos or attacking R’s for not condemning.” Abedin, the top Clinton lieutenant, chimed in: “Haim hit all of us. Called me yesterday afternoon with same message. I told him she had said something but he says he’s only heard her talk about immigration. And if Haim is raising it, it means he’s hearing it from his Univision colleagues.” Everyone on the email agreed that Clinton should more forcefully call out Trump in an upcoming speech before the National Council of La Raza, which she subsequently did. “It was appalling to hear Donald Trump describe immigrants as drug dealers, racists and criminals,” she said. “I have just one word for Donald Trump: Basta! Enough!”
On June 29, 2015, the month after hosting the Hollywood rollout of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the Sabans donated $2 million to her super-PAC Priorities USA Action. Three days later, Clinton sent what could be perceived as a thank-you note to Saban; she issued an unusual public letter addressed to the billionaire in which she announced her opposition to the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.
That Clinton came out in opposition to BDS surprised no one, but choosing to do so in the form of an obsequious letter to her biggest donor stunned Middle East watchers. “I know you can agree that we need to make countering BDS a priority,” the letter reads. At the bottom is a handwritten note from Clinton herself: “Look forward to working with you on this—Hillary.”
“If she wanted to take a position against BDS, just issue a press release,” says James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute who advised Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. “But sending a letter to Haim Saban and then making it public? It’s boneheaded, and it’s brazen.” (A campaign spokesman declined to comment about the Saban letter, but said Clinton and Saban have “a deep respect for each other.”)
Internal emails show how the Clinton campaign and Saban worked together to strategically leak the BDS letter in order to allay any concerns among Jewish supporters about Clinton’s support for Israel in anticipation of her backing the Iran deal. “Let’s def give (the letter) to someone,” campaign manager Robby Mook wrote to senior campaign aides. “I see zero downside to a story. Then we can circulate around right away (hopefully) in advance of Iran.” Another Clinton staffer, Christina Reynolds, replied, “If Haim’s going to give it to the Jewish media, I think that solves our problem. Once they write, we can make sure it gets picked up by some of our beat guys.” Three days later, Saban released Clinton’s BDS letter and an accompanying statement of his own through a New York-based PR agency that specializes in Jewish affairs.
By August 2016, the Sabans had poured an additional $8 million into Clinton’s super-PAC, bringing their total investment to $10 million. Saban had given another $1.4 million to the joint fundraising committee supporting Clinton’s campaign and the national Democratic Party.
When asked to consider Saban’s influence on a Clinton administration, think tank wonks, former diplomats, and other analysts in the United States and Israel predict that a President Clinton would begin to quietly shore up the US relationship with Israel—and end her predecessor’s habit of publicly chiding Israeli hardliners such as Netanyahu—and they can foresee Saban playing an unofficial role in those efforts. And if Clinton took a position in conflict with Saban’s beliefs? People who work on pro-Israel issues with Saban say they would expect him to put up a fight, as he did on the Iran deal, but they would be shocked to see him rebuke his longtime friend and ally. “He is a one-issue guy, but the issue isn’t Israel,” one prominent right-of-center activist told me. “It’s Hillary.”
Saban helps Hillary, and Hillary helps Saban. If he once again attempts to sell Univision or seeks to take the company public, a friendship with the president of the United States can only help should hurdles to the transaction arise. Similarly, Saban’s sterling reputation in Israel and deep connections with its political leaders could pave the way for warmer relations with the Israeli governing coalition, if not a renewed peace process. Now that would be a return with influence—for Haim Saban and for Hillary Clinton.
This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.
Photos used in the above illustration: Haim Saban and Hillary Clinton: Bob Riha Jr./WireImage/Getty; Bill Clinton: Ron Sachs/CNP/ZUMA